Basketball may not be king in Columbus, but it may be the first sport to take the stage since the cancelation of the fall football season.
While college football finds itself in a divided landscape that can’t agree on the sport’s future, college basketball is awaiting its sentence. Despite the unprecedented cancelation of fall sports in the Big Ten, Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann is eyeing a hopeful future for his team.
“The reality is we’ll have a tournament, I really believe that. I think we’ll have a season, but I think it’s going to look completely different,” Holtmann said Thursday on “The Ryen Russillo Podcast.”
The idea of an altered season came into sight when the Pac-12 moved to cancel athletics until 2021 — a decision which affects the beginning of the college basketball season. Ohio State had the potential to play Utah in the 2020 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in late-November.
On Monday, the reality of a modified season was further realized when Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, released a statement which touched on possible contingency plans for the Nov. 10 start date for the college basketball season.
“By mid-September, we will provide direction about whether the season and practice start on time or a short-term delay is necessitated by the ongoing pandemic,” Gavitt said.
Gavitt recognized that the mid-September decision would likely be the first of many decisions that would be made and that the uncertain future could require more decisions on the season.
“While circumstances may warrant flexibility resulting in a different and perhaps imperfect season, the ultimate goal is to safely provide student-athletes and teams with a great college basketball experience,” Gavitt said.
Holtmann said that the structure of college basketball is what gives it a leg up on college football in terms of playing a season. Although disconnected conferences largely dictated the future for football, basketball has a more centralized approach to its decision making.
“The difference for college basketball is that the NCAA controls the NCAA Tournament and much of college basketball, and Dan Gavitt does an unbelievable job,” Holtmann said. “While we may not have a commissioner of college basketball, we do have kinda a centralized voice that will be making decisions because they control the tournament.”
In the meantime, the Big Ten’s basketball coaches have met weekly to discuss protocols and compare testing. While the collaborative efforts of the coaches may be an unusual concept, Holtmann said the traditional competition has been moved aside due to COVID-19.
“Coaches, I think we’re all pretty territorial,” Holtmann said. “We’re really like ‘What’s this guy doing?’ and ‘I don’t want to say too much,’ but that all ends with something as serious as this.”
Along with other winter and spring sports, basketball was among the first collegiate sports to feel the impact of COVID-19. With tournaments and seasons canceled in March due to COVID-19 concerns, June not only marked a return of football players to campus but basketball players, as well.
The testing procedures and safety protocols put in place by Ohio State were backed by football players at the university. For basketball, Holtmann said that the team would get tested every Monday and Thursday at 7 a.m.
“I think the happiest our guys, our players, have been is the seven weeks they were with us in the summer, because they had some level of routine to their days,” Holtmann said.
This sense of comfort can be traced to the football team, as well. Although outspoken efforts by the players did not prevent the Big Ten’s decision to cancel the fall season, the cries for a season are still ongoing.
Holtmann expressed that he feels Ohio State’s Department of Athletics and school administration were in agreement to delay the season rather than cancel it.
In terms of his communication with athletic director Gene Smith, Holtmann said that the transparency has been great and that he is beginning to discuss the basketball season with Smith.
“I do think that the communication between Gene Smith and us throughout these last few weeks — really throughout the pandemic, has been phenomenal,” Holtmann said. “Like we know exactly where we’re at.”
While an official update on the season is likely a month out, Ohio State’s season is currently set to begin Nov. 11 with a matchup against Oakland.